Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 To Do List

1. Take mom for a trip. Driving her back to her home town. Or maybe taking a cruise. Or both.

2. Volunteer. Give back. Preferably, something involve kids or education. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities in Juba. Now there's something to do over the weekends in Juba.

3. Build a school. Or planning to build one. This one probably not going to happen within a year since all the research and preparation alone would take years. However, a journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step. I must take the first step.

4. Be a better friend. Call more, write more. A friend of mine lost his sister and I only found out a year later. I feel like a douche-bag.

5. Pick up Arabic. I went for ONE class last year. One class, that was it! While it was a timing issue, I must fess up that there was a commitment flop on my part too.

6. Buy more books, and read them.

7. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burundi.

Now 2012, bring it on!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Chilled Kivu

Slowly, quietly and lazily and uneventfully peaceful time slipped away. It was like the ripples of wavelets skimming across the lake, no big splash, just calmly and gently.

I walked around the lake. I listened to the bird singing on the trees and the fishermen singing in the lake in the morning. I ate when I was hungry. I drank beers by the lake. I read. I took naps in the afternoon. I sat by the lake looking into the horizon afar. I swam in the evening, only once because to water was freezing. I slept early at night.

Three days and two nights.

One word to sum up Lake Kivu: chilled.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mountains Calling

I'm a beach person. I love going to the beach. It's such a relaxing and chilled ambience. So I always arrange my trip to end by the beach. And for my Rwanda trip, Lake Kivu was my last stop. It was a good relaxing 3 days chilling by the lake shore and doing nothing, not even weight seeing much. It was just hanging out with B&B: books and beers.

But my mind was far flung on the slopes of lush beautiful hills and mountains in Ruhengeri. There was a great sense of serenity and security being surrounded by those great mountains. It was humbling. The mountains were imposing but kind, feeding me their wonderful refreshing positive chi. In fact I still long for those amazing mountains and reminiscing about my days roaming there.

The view from my room in Ruhengeri, the magnificent Mahabura hiding behind the clouds and the mighty Gahinga.

This is the view from my bathroom, the Muside and Sabiyo, I think.

Maybe deep down inside, I'm a mountain person.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hiking the Bisoke Volcano

It was not hiking weather.

First it rained the day before. So the trail already turned into a muddy and slippery stream. All the time, my eyes were peeled on the trail, making careful and strategic steps and balancing with the hiking sticks. I was trying my damnedest not to fall down and not to get my boots soaked (I hate walking in wet shoes). But who was I to out-step the trail? Furthermore as we hike along, the rain came and gone, several times! Not even half way up, my body was drenched with the rain and sweat. Then there was the fog thick in the air, shrouding the woods blocking the view. It was miserable plodding along all wet and cold and compromised visibility.

After trudging along the wet, muddy and slippery trail for a good 4 hours, landing on my ass a couple of time and swearing under my breath endlessly and questioning myself why I chose this strenuous hike over chilling out over beers, I was rewarded with this view of the crater lake atop Bisoke Volcano. Oh what the fuck?!

The Congo-Rwanda border splits the lake in half and runs along the peaks of the various volcanoes in the Viruga mountain chain. Since Congo was just a stone throw away, we decided to take a quick trip over, sans immigration stamps, to check it out. Congo is the second country I entered illegally. Nice view?

But lady luck came in the eleventh hour, as we were about to descent. The fog lifted, revealing the beauty and marvel of the crater lake and the rolling hills.

Still wondering if I made the right call hiking Bisoke.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another Christmas

I spent Christmas this year in two countries. I woke up Christmas day morning in Juba, South Sudan and going to sleep Christmas night in Khartoum, Sudan. Huge celebration and festivity in Juba but it is just another ordinary day here in Khartoum. Well Sudan is a muslim country, Christmas just ain't their thing.

With Christmas almost done, the year is drawing to a close. Did my year go out with a bang? It was certainly an eventful year. Sealing the deal on my own pad towards the end of 2010, I finally moved into my place in May. Just moving in, literally. Since I'm working and living in Khartoum, I hardly did any living in part my new apartment. I just done it up a little, very little in fact and brought in my clothes and books and kitchen stuff. That was it. Practically the place is vacant, so much so that the pigeons were moving in (into my balcony), leaving a couple of hatchings and a balcony of pigeon shit. Maybe I should consider renting it out? At least that would pay for the mortgage itself. It makes sense and cents. I'm Chinese, why didn't think of that is frankly quite beyond me.

There were a lot of traveling this year. Finally I've been to my motherland, China. Working with a lot of mainland Chinese, they always ask me if been back to China or pester me when am I making a trip back home. In Jun, I did finally, I went to Beijing on a business trip. Beijing was anything and everything beyond my expectations. I was expecting the streams of bicycles but I saw rivers flows of cars on the road. No one spit. Subway was convenient and cheap. The city was exuberant with energy and excitement. The minute I returned to Sudan, I was already scheming my way for another business trip back there. (Evil laugh!) Because of my work schedule, I was also able to see more of the mysterious continent I'm living now. I went to Kenya and Rwanda in August and October respectively. The nature attractions and adventures were certainly top notch, but the humanity and cultural of the trips were eye opener for me. TO me, poverty is the root of horrible messiness in Africa and education is the best tool to fight it. I want to do something about. I'm plotting something for that.

And then dad passed away. I just reached my apartment in Khartoum from my Rwanda trip when I got the call from my sister. The connection was crappy so she was shouting into the phone. "Dad's gone!" Deafening! I was little unsettled for a moment, crashing down from the post Rwandan adventure high to the losing dad low. My relationship with dad was a very typical Chinese father-son dynamic. He was always a stern disciplinarian and I was afraid of him. We hardly talk or do things together. I remember him bringing me to a barber when I was young and I brought him to one when he was frail. In the end it was more of a relief, more than sadness, that dad was moving on. He had finally came to the end of this road and now onto the next one. In reality, isn't death part of life?

With dad gone, mom is now all on her own back home. Mom is a strong and feisty lady. But unfortunately, not as strong and as feisty as she used to be or I remember her to be. I recently found out that she's still not quite used to sleeping alone at night. Dad had gone for more than 2 months already. We kids are all back at work in faraway cities. What can we do? How do we do it?

On the work front, it was a tough struggle most of the days. Perhaps I'm still not adjusting to the local work culture. It's too laid back for me and there's no sense of urgency at all at anything. Many a time it was more stressful delegating a task to someone else than piling that task onto my already full plate. Consequently I bitch a lot and stress out even more. I find myself running on a very short fuse. I don't like myself running on a very short fuse. There are also many politics (not politicking) and scheming, that the solution is made not with the collective best interest of the company in mind. That's I guess is one of the perils of working in a joint venture company.

I discovered that my ability to adapt is surprisingly astounding. As the South Sudanese celebrated their independence in July this year, the possibility of relocating from Khartoum to Juba, the capital of South Sudan was looming large. During this interim period I was traveling to Juba quite a bit, dealing with the new host authority, establishing network and seeking for approvals for our various project implementation. My job is pretty much a liaison and I was able to fit into that so quickly. I was like a salesman, going door to door pitching my sale and trying to seal the deal. I was ever so charming and accommodating and entertaining at whatever demand or request and managing their expectations professionally. Me being running on such short fuse, it was astonishing that I found the strength in me to suppress my dismay behind my ear-to-ear grin. Yes, it was part of the job description but seriously that is so not me. Yet I did it. How did I do it? I'm baffled myself too. Well maybe it is me! Now that's a scary thought.

As much as I'm smiling jovially trying my best to hide my disdain, my facial expression or my tone of voice or my body language or all of them would sell me out. Well, this art of masking feeling on the face, I'm still perfecting it. At the end of the day, I'm a pretty transparent no-nonsense guy. Looking ahead, it will continue to be even more challenging and exciting at work next year, as we'll be relocating to Juba for good. We are setting up shop temporarily in a hotel. Construction of the office space is on super rush super energized mode. The first batch of staff moving down would be in mid January next year, a month delay from the original plan. We are forging forward, forcefully.

Isn't that a good way to move into 2012, charging ahead at full throttle?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jesus for Sale

Traveling through Rwanda, or Africa for that matter, it was interesting and fun to see that the entrepreneurial people would simply set up shop on the ground by the road, and sell anything and everything, including Jesus.

Jesus for sale! Anyone?

Well, it's a honest living at least.

Merry Christmas!

Note: Photo taken from a bus on the way from Gisenyi to Kibuye along the shore of Lake Kivu in Rwanda.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coaster in Juba

Let's take a break from the Rwandan blog posts. What say you if we head over to Juba, South Sudan for a little snippet of life there.

Normally, we place a coaster under a glass to protect the table top underneath, from the unsightly condensation marks or scratches. Here in Juba, this is how it is done. A coaster is place over the glass instead.


It is to shield the glass (very important) and the beer (even more important) from the millions and millions of flies buzzing around, annoyingly!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rwanda: Land of Thousands Hills

Rwanda, land of the thousands hills. The stunning and mighty mountains are omnipresent wherever one goes. The rolling lush green hills sprawling out across the countryside like an undulated giant green carpet. The splendidly majestic Virunga volcano chains in the northern province is more than a marvelous spectacle. Formidable but alluring and inviting at the same time, those seeking for adventures come here to track the gigantic mountain gorillas or hike up the volcanoes for the picturesque view.

Looking at the mountains and hills afar is soothingly hypnotic, be it from a over-cramped van/bus, or wet and cold and muddy and beat hiking on the trail itself. The view took my breaths away, set my mind free and aloft. It was moments like that that I was humbled with admiration and delighted with the greatness of nature. Nothing mattered and life was full with joy of simply being, pure joy.

Rwanda, land of the thousands hills. That is a gross understatement. To me, Rwanda is the land of millions of magnificent hills.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Balancing Act in Rwanda

Life, as we all know it, is a balancing act. It's a tough struggle. We learn to accept it, and try to perfect it. Unfortunately, some have to learn that the uber-hard way, in such a tender age.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whitey Softies

We hiked through some farm land before coming to the start of the Bisoke Volcano hike. We walked past vast fields of white little flowers. In the morning breeze, they swirled and billowed like the foamy white of waves, rushing into the stunning mountains afar. The view was picturesque and breathtaking, quite a fairy-tale setting. I was expecting the goats and the birds and the farmers in the field burst out into song and dance any minute.

These were the Pyrethrums, or commonly known as daisies. It is a major crop cultivated here in Rwanda to produce insecticides or repellents. Funny how these white little daisies appeared so pretty, pure, gentle and soft in the field, but they were turned into something lethal to the bugs and mozzies, the creatures we came to hate as we embarked into the mountains. So we slathered generously all over our bodies the repellent cream or spray to fend off those little creepy crawly buzzy buggers.
Look can be deceiving, no?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clean Kigali

I've been to a few African cities. Clean is definitely not the adjective I'd ever use to describe those cities. So when my friend KB told me about how clean Kigali is, my eye brow raised in skepticism, almost like a reflex reaction. "You have to see it to believe it. Kigali is so clean, you can't find a plastic bag litter!" KB added adamantly.

So to Kigali I went, for seeing is believing.

The plane landed on a rainy day. As it approached for descent, I could see some parts of city were flooded. "Oh this is not going to be fun, and not going to be clean!" I thought.

I went out for a walkabout to get myself orientated on the city. Rwanda is famously known as the Land of Thousand Hills. Kigali, the capital is spread over some undulated hills. After the horrific episode in spring 1994, the city is rebuilding slowly but steadily. Roads well paved and high-rise beautifully erected and there are even city landscaping carefully manicured. The city is set abuzz, vibrant and full of energy. Businesses and investments are coming back to town and Rwanda as a nation is moving on forward together. There isn't the tiniest hint of the atrocity of the genocide.

And yes, the city is clean, spotless even. It's true that there's no litter on the street at all, or the back alleys or the side lanes for that matter. Cigarette buds, plastic bottles, candy wrappers, plastic bags, none in sight. What floored me with the cleanliness of the city was that there was not even fallen leaves from the trees lining alongside the roads. I was truly impressed.

Yes, now I'm a believer!

It was not until I visited the Kigali Memorial Center, I found the city is just sterilely clean, artificial and fragile. Are they not trying too hard, to clean up the city? And cleaning up the city, is it not an effort to polish off the stubborn black stain of the nation's past? Suddenly the cleanliness of the city was reduced to merely a cheerful facade, to hide the hideous monstrosity happened some 17 years ago. Are they sweeping it all under the carpet, for when it's out of sight then it'll be soon out of mind?

So there it stands firmly, the Kigali Memorial Center. The exhibition documenting the genocide through photographs and survivors accounts on video and various articles such as the victims' clothing and the killers' machetes. Many a time during my visit I would want to skip ahead. But the exhibits were as powerfully captivating as they were eerily chilling and torturously painful. They are reminders to Rwanda that hatred can be spread so easily, driving normal folks to do some insanely abnormal deeds. More so, they reminders to the world that inaction is just as hurtful and guilty as action.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Super Simple

A few nights ago I put together, pretty much literally, my dinner. It reminded me of the Korean meals served by the Korean volunteer, A, who generously offered a spare room to me, stuffed me full with Korean food and showed me around town while I was in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. The meal was super simple. Basically it's just bits and pieces of whatever I had, few strips of crispy bacon, an egg fried with the bacon fat, spicy sambal, freshly cut lettuce and tomato and the star of the meal, Korean seaweed, all served with rice.

The meal was super simple indeed, but full with flavors: savory bacon and egg, spicy zingy sambal, sweetness of lettuce, tad of sourness of the tomatoes and salty seaweed, all that tickled my tastebuds with delight as well as rekindled the warmth of friendship and stirred up fond memories of the trip.